The surest path to a repeat Premier League title win for Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is a road he cannot take.
Pellegrini would make his club's load a lot lighter by laying down in the Capital One Cup and in the FA Cup. Getting out of these peripheral competitions as soon as possible would be the best thing for City's Premier League (and Champions League) hopes.
City's second team is probably good enough to get to the semifinals of both of those lesser cup tournaments, which is a big problem.
Look at City's schedule in 2013-14.
City played six matches in the Capital One Cup en route to winning it. They played five matches in the FA Cup before getting unceremoniously dumped out of the competition by Wigan Athletic at the Etihad.
Winning the Capital One Cup was better than losing it once City got themselves so far into that draw. But let's be clear: Had City only won the Capital One Cup and not held on to win the league title, the 2013-14 season would have been viewed as an abject failure. That's how much the Capital One Cup really means.
If City's Capital One Cup exertions were a nuisance, at least they paid off. City's FA Cup efforts were in vain, and in retrospect taxed the squad unnecessarily.
Possibly City's worst result of the 2013-14 season was the draw at Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup's third round.
Even the match report from City's website tacitly said so: "The Blues, who ended the game with ten men following Dedryck Boyata’s sending off, are now facing a fixture pile-up after failing to put their Championship opponents to the sword at Ewood Park."
They certainly were. City ended up playing seven matches in three weeks from Jan. 8 through Jan. 29 after seeing the Blackburn replay plugged into an already cluttered schedule.
Further underscoring the detriment that last season's futile FA Cup run served for City was their match with Chelsea in the tournament's round of 16. City had just lost to the Blues in league play 12 days earlier, and could ill afford to lose a second straight match to Jose Mourinho's side at the Etihad.
So Pellegrini had to manage this match as though it really mattered. Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta played the entire match. Edin Dzeko ran for 81 minutes. David Silva left after 69 minutes.
This was tread taken off these players' tires needlessly with City playing the first leg of their Champions League tie with Barcelona three days later.
City played 57 competitive matches in the 2013-14 season. No matter how deep a team is, playing to win 57 times will deplete it mercilessly. Sometimes it will even happen stupidly, as Alvaro Negredo's injury against West Ham United in a Capital One Cup tie that was already pretty well decided attests.
And it is not just the toll these unimportant competitions take on the players. Pellegrini and his coaching staff have to divert the resources of time and energy toward match planning.
When the draw calls for City to travel, they have to go to places like Blackburn and Leicester City to play a match that the home side and its supporters are far more "up for" than City could ever be.
We can agree that what is suggested here will never actually happen.
City's management doubtlessly believe that, even with the added matches on the schedule and the resultant inconveniences that come with them, the Sky Blues are deep enough and resilient enough to deal with all of it.
But one of these seasons, it would be interesting to see City mysteriously fall out of both the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup early.
Think of the advantage City would have over the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool as those clubs continue to put players at risk of injury and continue to tack on additional fixtures to already loaded schedules. Nothing bad can happen to City's best players in a match they do not have to play.
No, it will not happen this way. But isn't it pretty to think so?
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